Basque Country, situated near the French border in northern Spain, is renowned for its distinctive language, vibrant cultural traditions and delectable cuisine. Additionally, it’s home to the world-renowned Movistar cycling team.
Basque Country boasts a vibrant cultural landscape. While most residents speak Spanish, many also speak Euskera – an ancient Romance language that pre-dated Romance languages. With so much to explore and enjoy here, Basque Country truly stands out as an unforgettable destination.
The autonomous region is also often referred to as the “Basque Country,” which can confuse. In this article, we focus on the Autonomous Region of the Basque Country. We do not include the French Basque Country and the fourth province, the neighbouring Autonomous Foral Community of Navarre.
Bilbao is a city on the rise that’s going through an exciting transformation. With plenty of sights and activities, Bilbao makes for a great holiday destination in Spain for those looking for something different.
Bilbao’s main attractions are the Old Town (Casco Viejo) and Guggenheim Museum. You can easily explore both these areas on foot, but if you’re short on time, hiring a private guide for an informative tour around the main sights may be your best bet.
You can take a walking tour to learn more about the history and architecture of a city. Many companies offer this service, with guides taking you through all the major sights so that you get the most out of your trip.
Bilbao stands out with its fascinating culture. You will experience plenty of history here and find amazing museums – making it one of the best destinations to visit in Spain if you want to learn about local heritage.
Another reason why the city is so special is its amazing food scene. It’s renowned for its pintxos and seafood, and there are plenty of places where you can savour these delectable dishes. Don’t miss out on trying txangurro, which is an irresistible crab that you can either dip in sauce or have wrapped up.
Some of Spain’s most beloved restaurants can be found at Mercado de la Ribera – Europe’s biggest indoor covered market! Here, you’ll find an extensive selection of eateries and stalls selling all types of foodstuffs – plus it’s the perfect spot for watching live shows!
For some truly breathtaking landscapes in the Basque Country, head to one of its wine regions. Here, you will be met with mountains, forests and beaches that will leave you in awe of what nature has to offer.
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao
You will find Basque Country on the Bay of Biscay, among the western foothills of the Pyrenees. The largest and most famous city is Bilbao, with the famous Guggenheim museum, but the capital of the autonomous region is Vitoria-Gasteiz in Álava. In total, just over 2 million people live in the area. When you are used to other destinations in Spain, you will soon notice that the Basque Country has its own culture. It also has a language, Euskera (Basque), which is still actively spoken by about a quarter of the Basques.
During the Franco regime, the Spanish authority suppressed the autonomy of the Basques, which led to the creation of the armed secession movement Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA). These extreme nationalists tried to enforce the independence of the Basque Country through terrorist attacks. Under King Juan Carlos, the Basques regained their original autonomy. Although many Basques would still like to separate themselves from Spain, ETA has renounced violence since 2011. Today, the region is just as safe as the rest of the country. No reason anymore to avoid this beautiful part of Spain!
Highlights of the region are the hip, atmospheric cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian. In these beautiful old towns, you will find countless bars where you can get traditional “pintxos” (Basque tapas). Bilbao is, next to the Guggenheim, worth the Mercado de la Ribera alone, the large covered market hall where you can find almost everything you can imagine.
Pamplona, Spain is renowned for its annual San Fermin festival which draws people from around the globe. This nine-day fiesta takes place in July and has become a major cultural event in Pamplona.
Pamplona’s population, as of 2006, stands at 195,769 persons. Situated along the floodplain of the Arga river in northern Spain, it serves as a transitional zone between rainy Atlantic coastal regions and drier inland areas.
Pamplona has seen rapid urban development since the 18th century. It has become a city that attracts many tourists with its stunning parks and green spaces, as well as numerous museums and monuments.
One of Pamplona’s most stunning landmarks is the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real in Old Town. Built on the site of a Roman temple, this church has an intriguing history. Initially designed with Romanesque elements, it was later replaced by Gothic architecture.
Pamplona’s Iglesia de San Nicolas, built in the 12th century, is another iconic landmark. This church resembles a fortress.
Pamplona is renowned for its historical monuments and buildings, but also for its world-class cuisine. The city features plenty of restaurants serving traditional dishes like lamb, potatoes and cheese.
Pamplona is an ideal base for exploring the surrounding area and is close to some of Spain’s most stunning beaches, Biarritz and San Sebastian are both within 90 minute drive.
A day trip to these two cities is well worth the effort. If you don’t have your vehicle, take the bus or hire a taxi; there are plenty of taxi companies in the area offering reasonable rates for tourists.
San Sebastian is one of Spain’s most picturesque seaside towns, boasting numerous cultural events throughout the year and renowned for its exquisite cuisine.
Summers in this coastal city are a popular tourist attraction, and the streets are always buzzing with activity. Enjoy taking a leisurely walk along the beaches or taking an enjoyable walking tour through the old town.
Spend your days exploring San Sebastian by heading outside the city, to nearby vineyards or farms and learning how local wines are made. You could also take a cooking class and sample some of San Sebastian’s delectable cuisine.
Playa de la Concha beach, situated on the Bay of Biscay, is one of the city’s many stunning beaches where visitors can unwind and take pleasure in the sunshine. Popular for swimming, sunbathing or water sports such as kayaking, canoeing or jet skiing, Playa de la Concha is one of the most popular choices for locals.
Visit San Sebastian during the summer months when the city is packed with visitors and there are numerous events taking place, such as the Festival of Cultures. Additionally, San Sebastian plays host to the renowned San Sebastian International Film Festival which runs from late September to mid-October and attracts some of Europe’s most illustrious filmmakers.
This festival provides an exceptional platform to connect with like-minded individuals from around the globe. It showcases some of the finest artists and musicians from around the globe.
There is plenty of shopping and entertainment in the vicinity. The streets of the old town are lined with shops and bars where you can eat pintxos – smaller tapas-style snacks that have more delicate flavours.
The Basque Country is a distinct part of Spain, with its language, culture and traditions. It should be noted that in the past this region was targeted by extremist nationalist groups called ETA; so it’s best to remain aware and respectful while visiting.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is an idyllic city that should be on any traveller’s bucket list in the Basque Country. As one of Europe’s greenest capitals, Vitoria-Gasteiz boasts plenty of parks and gardens as well as broad promenades lined with charming Gothic and neo-Classical buildings.
Athens is recognized as one of the most sustainable cities in Europe, earning itself the title of European Green Capital in 2012. This commitment to sustainability can be seen through its impressive Europa Congress Palace – a multipurpose event centre that can host up to 5,700 people.
The city boasts several cultural landmarks, such as an impressive Gothic cathedral and art museums. Additionally, the medieval quarter boasts some of the best-preserved medieval streets and plazas in Europe.
Don’t forget to visit some of the iconic pintxo bars that have become a must-visit when visiting Basque Country. These ‘pintxo potato establishments have been around since medieval times and continue to attract visitors from all over.
One of the most sought-after tourist attractions in Vitoria is the Iglesia de San Pedro, a 13th-century church located right in the city’s historic centre. Though it isn’t open to visitors, you can admire its stunning Gothic facade from the outside.
Other attractions in Vitoria-Gasteiz include Plaza de la Virgen Blanca, home to a plant sculpture installed to honour Vitoria-Gasteiz’s election as European Green Capital (2012). Not to be missed is also its stunning cathedral with its Sacred Art Museum.
Vitoria-Gasteiz offers an abundance of public transportation to explore all that the city has to offer. The historic centre is compact and easy to explore on foot, making it the perfect starting point for your Basque Country journey.
For an elegant dining experience, be sure to stop by El Portalon restaurant, located in the historic centre and serving some of the city’s best cuisine.
The bay of La Concha
San Sebastian is famous because of its beautiful seaside location and pleasant climate. It is colder than in the more southern cities, which makes it a perfect spot for a city trip. Beautiful houses, cosy restaurants, and the most beautiful city beach in Europe, La Concha, make San Sebastian more than worthwhile.
El Bosque Pintado de Oma
Do you like nature more? Even when you are in the right place in the Basque Country! Here you will find El Bosque Pintado de Oma, also known as the painted forest. All trees are decorated in this forest so that you walk into a living work of art. It is an art project by the Basque sculptor and painter Augustin Ibarrola.
Close to the forest, you will also find the caves of Santimamiñe, with ancient cave paintings. In addition to the painted wood, the Basque Country has seven nature reserves that are each worth a visit. Consider rugged cliffs, forested mountains, and open plains. In the middle of this impressive nature, you will find traditional villages where time seems to have stood still.
Aralar Natural Park
You will discover Aralar Nature Park (Parque Natural Aralar) among the hilliest locations in the Basque Country. This park is popular for its gorgeous landscapes. It is situated in the southeast of the district of Guipúzcoa, the adjoining district of Navarre.
The Sierra de Aralar (in Basque Aralar mendilerroa) is a plateau in the Basque hills. The humidity of the coast with each other with its orography make it an evergreen location with plentiful vegetation, ecological characteristics have determined its current degree of protection.